In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman writes,
Think of Richard Nixon or Jimmy Carter or Billy Graham, or even Albert Einstein, and what will come to your mind is an image, a picture of a face, most likely a face on a television screen (in Einstein’s case, a photograph of a face). Of words, almost nothing will come to mind. This is the difference between thinking in a word-centered culture and thinking in an image-centered culture.
Ch 4. The Typographic Mind, p 61
Postman is right, and twenty years on it is increasingly more so.
It occurred to me that Jesus Christ could be added to the list. For most people he is now a Hollywood figure along with Moses/Charlton Heston. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has done nothing to change that perception, for, as I understand it, Christ’s teaching played little or no part in the movie, which was largely image-centred, and graphically so.
Worshippers of the living God are forbidden to make images for worship. This is the second Word of God, for what are commonly known as the Ten Commandments are in fact the Ten Words in Hebrew. Our modern experience as outlined by the Apostle Paul shows the problem with image-centred culture. God’s command took Israel out of a worship structure which was image-centred. Nor was Egypt alone in having a well-developed image-centred worship culture, Canaan, too, had such a culture. Ancient pagan worship in general had a great element of spectacle as images were carried and mythological events reenacted in elaborate ritual drama. Such image-centred worship was specifically forbidden by God, and we would be wise if we still adhered to the prohibition.
Word-centred worship will make demands on our lifestyle, ethics and morality. Worship where the central focus is on the Word of God will have a content that may be articulated, and that must be applied to the whole of life.
If our worship becomes image-centred then it will tend toward experience. Content will become unimportant and application non-existent. Postman et al. may have uncovered this aspect of culture, but I suspect God knew the human tendency, since he had created men and women and knew how they ticked.
We deviate from word-centred worship at our peril. Image-centred worship tends to exclude the engagement of the mind as the spiritual/emotional experience becomes dominant. Word-centred worship, on the other hand, engages mind and spirit. Paul’s advice on speaking in tongue, perhaps, has some relevance here. He wished to pray with both spirit and mind (1 Cor 14:15). Word-centred worship does not exclude emotional experience, but subjects emotion to the mind, and God’s objective teaching about how worship ought to be conducted.
Postman’s observations have much wider ramifications than he could ever have imagined.